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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
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Castle Talk
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Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
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The Walkmen - Lisbon
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Fat Possum
Jimmy Behan
Days Are What We Live In
Elusive Recordings

Rating: 8/10 ?

February 7, 2005
If electronic music grappled with the problem of how to create pulsing, grooving music that worked equally as well on the dance floor as it did on your headphones during the 90s, the genre has occupied itself with the idea of making digital, computerized instrumentation sound as organic as possible during the 00s. When listening to a new electronic release, it's practically a given that you'll encounter a mixture of acoustic and electric instrumentation: samples, loops, and live playing will occupy the same space, with the goal of sounding as warm and human as possible always at the fore.

Because Jimmy Behan weds acoustics and electronics so masterfully, it would be easy, and correct enough, to say that Days Are What We Live In is yet another exploration of this man-domesticates-machine theme, in the tradition of Four Tet or Boards of Canada. To simplify this disc as such, however, is to overlook the more interesting tension at work here - the balance that Behan strikes between his pop sensibility and his more abstract leanings.

If you approach this album expecting a set of laptop pop songs, or in search of more esoteric headphone fodder, you're likely to find your expectations frustrated by the complications that Behan subtly tosses into the mix. For starters, Days Are What We Live In can sound downright anachronistic - its more organic elements (usually samples of acoustic guitars and pianos) remain essentially undoctored, and they'd sound more at home in a "searching" at-work FM station ballad than a 21st century indie pop tune, and its electronic elements (blissed-out synth strings, percolating percussive drops of melting space stations) hearken back to mid-90s Britain, recalling Slowdive's post-Souvlaki output and Richard D. James' Polygon Window. Together, these sounds fuse together to create a sonic experience that is similar to a number of albums you've probably heard before, but at the same time altogether its own distinct world.

Of course, style only counts for so much; Behan makes this an album worth your attention with his careful, thorough song craft. These compositions average about four minutes in length, and their ability to connect immediately, build meticulously, and deliver the proverbial goods in the end suggests that they are, at the core, pop songs, but the subtlety with which Behan creates these connections, heightens tension, and delivers a climax distances his work from the overt poppiness and overdramatic lunges that have characterized the laptop world as of late.

"Mayfly", for instance, opens like a modern jazz piece, with dense, shuffling percussion and Vince Guaraldi pianos. Faint digital bleeps hover on the peripherals and give the impression that an explosion is imminent, but they never directly state it. As the song draws to a close, an explosion does indeed occur, but it's far from grandiose - warped string samples flitter about in a blank space, sounding like a symphonic perversion of "Great Gig in the Sky".

Similarly screwy progressions populate the majority of Days Are What We Live In. Sure, Behan drops the ball on occasion - "Deeper than Heaven" overdoes it on the soft rock balladry and runs about a minute too long, and "Hanover" lies down in a rather promising digital bath but stops shy of full immersion, coming off as tentative and aimless. Most of this album, though, is top notch, and a welcome reprieve from the generic tones and mawkishness that seem to have taken hold of the down-tempo electronic scene.

Reviewed by Phillip Buchan
A one-time music director at WUOG in Athens, Phillip is into college radio, literature, writing, buying records, going to shows, talking to friends, learning -- pretty much the same stuff that all of us priveledged, (pseudo?)intellectual Americans are into.

See other reviews by Phillip Buchan



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